Kylie is a…CSI?

I just came back from a week in North Carolina doing something that currently tops my list of Coolest Things Ever. I spent a week at SIRCHIE, a company that manufactures law enforcement and forensic products. They also do training in various aspects of criminal investigation and forensic tools for police, sheriffs’ departments etc. This year they agreed to offer a similar class in evidence collection for writers.

For a suspense author the experience was, in short, awesome. I do a fair amount of research for my books, which includes reading in the field and making several expert contacts for each story to ensure that I have my details straight. I’ve never been a TV CSI fan because of the factual inaccuracies rampant in the shows. To get the training and hands-on time with the tools of the trade with experts in the field was absolutely fascinating.

We started out working with the various powders used to lift prints from flat surfaces. I have to admit I was getting a bit cocky . Turns out I leave ‘light’ prints, meaning the ridges in my fingers aren’t raised much. (I blame typing, although apparently handling paper a lot will also wear them down.) In many instances I wasn’t able to lift clear prints at all. By noon I was vocally announcing my intention to turn to a life of crime. Those plans were short-lived, however. After lifting prints from a mirrored surface with copper metallic powder and looking at them under the comparator (which is a magnifier with a screen), I saw that not only were my prints completely visible, I’d also left most of a palm print and half of my wrist.

So ended my not-yet-started career change as a burglar.

The blood stain section of class was my personal favorite.  One of my current projects includes a heroine who’s a blood spatter expert, so this was right up my alley.  And I have to tell you, it is soooo cool to spray areas where you’d expect to find blood in a scene and see the stain luminesce.



To the right is one of four stations used when detectives go to an advanced blood stain pattern class.  I’m absolutely coveting a spot in that class, just to watch them scale and pattern the various areas of spatter to re-enact the crime scene.

At left are some of the materials we used when we restored a serial number that had been filed off a piece of metal.  After sanding the area for far too long! we cleaned it off and then poured that small vial of acid on it.  When it was done bubbling we wiped it off and ran it under water, holding it at a 45 degree angle, checking for recovered numbers.  I had to do mine twice before I could see them…I lack the strength to sand hard enough, apparently!

We also spent time running presumptive tests for cocaine and meth.  Another fascinating experience.  Oh, and those movies that show someone sticking their finger in a white powder and tasting it?  Pure Hollywood BS.  

We also spent an afternoon with one of the state’s leading fingerprint analysts.  That was an eye-opener.  I had somehow thought that there was more science to the process but it actually relies a great deal on the experience and training of the examiners.  I freely admit that I didn’t shine when it came to comparing prints under a magnifier.  All those loops, whorls, arches, deltas and demarcations…my eyes started glazing over as I tried to find unique characteristics.  That’s what examiners do before submitting prints to AFIS (Automated Fingerprint Identification System).  They plot 12-16 unique characteristics of the print, as well as telling the system whether to look for whorls, loops or arches.  Then the system spits back around 18 possibilities.  The analyst compares the print from the scene to the ones the system sent back to determine whether it matches one of the prints on file.  Only about 10% will match, since AFIS has only people with criminal records.

All in all, after a week in class, I’m left wondering why I didn’t swallow my distaste for chemistry and pursue a degree in forensic science.  And when I wax enthusiastic about how I spent a week of my summer, I get more than my share of weird looks.  I don’t care…what we find thrilling is as unique to us as our fingerprints.

What’s the most thrilling thing you’ve done lately?

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18 Responses to Kylie is a…CSI?

  1. Willa says:

    Ooooh – that was sooooo interesting. Love all the little ‘behind the scenes’ details like this. What a fantastic time you must have had. Not jellous. Much. 🙂

    So – may I ask about any details you can give about what you are working on at the moment and when it will be out? Loved the Mindhunters!

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Thanks so much, Willa! Actually, I have three projects in the works. One is a commercial suspense fiction piece ready for submission in the next few weeks. Another is a suspense project with a relationship in it. And the third is a dark romantic thriller (the first in a trilogy) that will follow the same couple through three books. I just need more days in the week!

      • Willa says:

        Another is a suspense project with a relationship in it. And the third is a dark romantic thriller (the first in a trilogy) that will follow the same couple through three books.

        WoW – colour me thrilled ☺

  2. Kathleen O says:

    You did have an exciting time of it… They will be casting you on CSI:soon… you will fit right in… I have done nothing exciting lately… Just reading good books and enjoying the summer…

  3. leannebanks says:

    Oh, I love it! Kylie goes to creepy summer camp! I can only imagine how excited you were. It sounds like it was fascinating! Good for you!;) Most exciting thing I’ve done lately is play corn hole with my family… unless I can count the cruise I took in March where I kissed a stingray and flew down a zipline over the ocean!:)

    • Kylie Brant says:

      LOL, creepy summer camp. I’m going to have to remember that one! Ziplining is a thrill, isn’t it, Leanne? We went in March in the Caribbean. Almost gave my hubby a heart attack but he stuck it out. It was a blast.

  4. This sounds sooooo amazing!!! What an incredible, hands-on experience. No better research than that! I am so impressed!

    I’ve done the citizen’s police academy and the fire department citizen’s academy, and also rode with a rodeo contractor while he and his wife were putting on rodeos, for research. But your experience tops everything!

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Rox, I’ve always wanted to do a citizen’s academy but it wouldn’t be too exciting in this town of 7500 😦 Someday I’ll try to convince a larger locale to allow me in on theirs.

      • LOL. The irony is that we we got to sign up for ride-alongs, I was so thrilled to get the shift starting at 11pm on a Fri or Sat night. It would be exciting! Great research!! But a number of agencies had worked together to pull off a big sweep of the city just the weekend before, They nabbed something like thirty drug dealers and every last one of the bad guys of all persuasions had fled like rats back to Chicago.

        The big excitement of my shift was a traffic stop–and all of the cops on duty must have been really bored, because four patrol cars converged on this unsuspecting driver, who must have been terrified to see all of those light bars coming from every direction!

  5. michelehauf says:

    Sounds super cool, Kylie! What an opportunity!

  6. Most thrilling thing I’ve done lately. Hmm. Let me think.

    While I’m thinking, let me just say, Kylie! What an interesting experience! I’m putting it on my list of what to put on my 2013 calendar. Reminds me of some of my daughter’s classes–she’s working on her MS in law enforcement. Lots of vicarious thrills and chills for her mom.

    Most thrilling thing I’ve done lately. Hmm. Let me think some more.

  7. Kylie Brant says:

    Kathleen, I can highly recommend it. The class offering evolved out of the Writer’s Police Academy, the third annual conference of which will be in Sept. SIRCHIE technicians come up to hold workshops and they were convinced to offer an entire week to only writers. I’m hoping they’ll do one in blood spatter 🙂

  8. Cindy Gerard says:

    This is so great. But I want to know – are you practicing your finger printing techniques on John?

    • Kylie Brant says:

      Ha, I had to leave (we were driving back) before we got into testing for seminal fluids. That was a portion of my education I didn’t see fit to continue for the ride home….

  9. Linda says:

    Sounds like you have had an exciting summer! I doubt most people would find what I have done this summer as exciting .. the two big cases have invilved a dog that had been shot and the wound was septic since the owner had waited days to bring him in to see me ( fortunately a good outcome). And a llam with overgrown hooves. See no excitment in my life.

  10. loisgreiman says:

    So cool, Kylie. I’m jealous.

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